COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. — For as long as Chloe Kim and Maddie Mastro have been alive, Kelly Clark has dominated snowboarding. Not any more.
Both Kim and Mastro are 17 years old and both surpassed their idol Clark — and everyone else — at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Copper.
On a warm sunny day in Copper’s superpipe, Kim threw tricks bigger than the rider who’s twice her age and landed them more smoothly, winning the first halfpipe Olympic qualifier with a score of 93.75.
“It’s awesome, I’m totally speechless,” Kim told U.S. Ski & Snowboard.
Mastro was close behind with 90.75. Clark’s final run of 83.75 kept her in third, giving the Americans a 1-2-3 sweep in a world cup contest — a good sign for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
“I think it’s so rad that we were all able to put down solid runs and make it on the podium,” Kim added. “It’s always awesome to get a U.S. podium sweep.”
“We had a really great day in the pipe today,” said Clark. “The ladies rode incredible. In Olympic years, we always see a big jump in progression, and the level of riding is always higher. So, it was great to be in the mix and end up on the podium.”
The podium finishes for the three women are a step toward Olympic qualification. The riders only need one top-three result to qualify for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team, so Kim, Mastro and Clark met the standard. Should other American riders reach the podium in the coming three Olympic qualifiers — which is likely — qualification for the Olympic team will be determined based on a points system. Four American women will compete in PyeongChang in halfpipe, with one of the four spots determined by coaches’ discretion.
The remaining three Olympic qualifiers are the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colorado, next weekend; then after the New Year, U.S. Grand Prixes in Snowmass, Colorado, and Mammoth, California.
It would be the first Olympics for Kim and Mastro. A first-generation American, Kim is looking forward to performing in front of relatives in the country of her heritage, South Korea.
At age 34, Clark would be the first snowboarder ever to make five Olympic teams.
Although she is no stranger to winning big contests — she has won five X Games medals in the past four years and has won every world cup she has entered except one — Kim confessed that nerves are part of the equation in Olympic qualification.
“I woke up [this morning] and was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so nervous, I’m going to puke,’” she said. “But the halfpipe kind of makes it feel like home, and all the nerves go away when I’m dropping in, and I’m just excited to try new stuff.”
Mastro is keeping nerves at bay by taking a more laid-back approach. She is considering each Olympic qualifier as just another event.
“I’m just snowboarding, doing what I love, having fun,” she said. “What happens is what happens.”
Clark also helped Mastro before the Copper contest. During practice, Clark noticed that Mastro was tight, so gave her a pat on the back.
“It helped me [realize], it’s OK, it’s just snowboarding,” said Mastro.
Clark has made herself available if her younger teammates ask for advice — or need a pat on the back. It’s her fifth go-round at Olympic qualification, and she has changed, she said, along with the sport.
“I have a different perspective, and I appreciate it, and I understand the expectation and the pressure and what it takes to make a U.S. Olympic halfpipe team,” Clark said. “It’s never easy, it always takes everything that I have. But I’m thankful that I still get to do this.”
Although her runs did not display the trademark Kelly Clark amplitude, she was satisfied with her start to the competition season. With little snow in Colorado, Clark and others have not had as much practice as they would like. She called her performance at Copper her baseline, with hopes of reaching her potential later this season.
So with three Olympic medals, including one gold — not to mention 14 X Games medals, five World Snowboard Tour titles, eight U.S. Open crowns and seven U.S. Grand Prix wins — will the 2018 Olympics be Clark’s final hoorah (should she qualify)?
“I would love to hit my peak this year and then re-evaluate,” she said in September.
When she does decide to retire, she wants U.S. women’s snowboarding to continue soaring.
“I definitely want my ceiling to be their floor,” she said of her younger teammates. “And when am done, I don’t want there to be a gap or a hole. These girls are making sure that there won’t be.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.